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GMA Network vs. COMELEC
The five (5) petitions before the Court put in issue the alleged unconstitutionality of Section 9 (a) of COMELEC Resolution No. 9615 limiting the broadcast and radio advertisements of candidates and political parties for national election positions to an aggregate total of one hundred twenty (120) minutes and one hundred eighty (180) minutes, respectively. They contend that such restrictive regulation on allowable broadcast time violates freedom of the press, impairs the people’s right to suffrage as well as their right to information relative to the exercise of their right to choose who to elect during the forth coming elections
Section 9 (a) provides for an “aggregate total” airtime instead of the previous “per station” airtime for political campaigns or advertisements and required prior COMELEC approval for candidates’ television and radio guesting and appearances.
Whether or not Section 9 (a) of COMELEC Resolution No. 9615 on airtime limits violates freedom of expression, of speech and of the press.
Yes. The Court held that the assailed rule on “aggregate-based” airtime limits is unreasonable and arbitrary as it unduly restricts and constrains the ability of candidates and political parties to reach out and communicate with the people. Here, the adverted reason for imposing the “aggregate-based” airtime limits – leveling the playing field – does not constitute a compelling state interest which would justify such a substantial restriction on the freedom of candidates and political parties to communicate their ideas, philosophies, platforms, and programs of government. And this is specially so in the absence of a clear-cut basis for the imposition of such a prohibitive measure.
It is also particularly unreasonable and whimsical to adopt the aggregate-based time limits on broadcast time when we consider that the Philippines is not only composed of so many islands. There are also a lot of languages and dialects spoken among the citizens across the country. Accordingly, for a national candidate to really reach out to as many of the electorates as possible, then it might also be necessary that he conveys his message through his advertisements in languages and dialects that the people may more readily understand and relate to. To add all of these airtimes in different dialects would greatly hamper the ability of such candidate to express himself – a form of suppression of his political speech.